I know you do not come here for the latest in pop culture news and analysis. Neither do I. But I have to rant more than a Tweet’s worth (i.e., more than 140 characters, likely more than 140 words — I’ll let you know when we get there) , and this is as good a place to do it as any. In fact, it’s the best place, since (a) I expect many of you might be thinking quite similar thoughts as I am, and can help me out here, and (b) those who haven’t had these thoughts, but actually think differently, can contribute to the conversation/our collective enlightenment on this tangled mess. Needless to say, if you don’t come here for pop culture news and analysis for a reason, and that reason is it’s disinteresting to you, sorry! Move on! I’m taking a pop culture water cooler break here!
There may not be an easy summary to the tangled mess, but if there were, it’d have something to do with the noxious mixture of a well-intentioned reference to gay people’s existence and (ooo! that was 140 characters!) a deeply-founded fear of (skittishness about? does the distinction make a difference?) representing us in three-dimensional, un-caricatured ways in high-stakes, big-money media products. Clarifying and enumerating details to follow in tirade below. Er, make that lengthy, brazenly unedited tirade below.
I just watched the 19th episode of Glee, “Dream On.” You can watch the whole thing for yourself here at Hulu. Spoiler alert! This whole rant is a big ole, meandering SPOILER! So go watch it now if you want to stay unsullied for your viewing experience. Then get back here.
Glee, for those not in the know (what am I saying?) under a cathode ray tube-TV-sized rock, is a wildly popular FOX television show centering around the travails of a motley — and talented — crew of high school glee club members somewhere in Ohio. It’s been called the queerest show on network television right now, what with its featuring one out gay male character (Kurt), a bisexual character or two (cheerleaders Santana and Brittany), an out lesbian in one leading role (Jane Lynch as sadistic cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester) and an out gay man a key member of the ensemble (Broadway’s Jonathan Groff), and a whole musical genre made grand by and arguably incapable of surviving without gay people (musical theater). As the inimitable and must-readable Dorothy Snarker puts it: “Singing, dancing, snarking. Jane Lynch, jazz hands, gay cheerleaders. That’s just quality television, right there.” (Read up on her Glee bits here. And if you get lost there because she’s such a witty witty writer, I won’t blame you. I’ll still love you the next time you remember to happen by here. If you can tear yourself away from her blog. Now back to rant.)
Glee’s co-creator Ryan Murphy even burnished his bona fides as a champion for queer people in pop culture early last week when he called for a boycott of Newsweek for publishing a “blatantly homophobic” screed (written by, wait for it… a gay journalist!) against out gay actors playing straight characters, one of whom was a Glee regular. (Michael Jensen at AfterElton.com here on the initial Newsweek piece, which appeared in the May 10th issue; Jensen followed up with a piece reprinting Kristen Chenowith’s righteous response to the Newsweek essay, and a really interesting, big picture analysis, seemingly defending the journalist, but mostly directing our attention past him, by Aaron Sorkin at the Huffington Postlast week).
So you have it all lined up so far? Cheerful, plucky, gay-friendly ensemble TV show employs and portrays gay people; cranky, narrow-minded (eh? self-hating? much?) gay journalist critiques out gay actors for, well, acting (and all of them extremely successfully, from the standpoint of the craft and its professional recognitions) ; plucky gay-friendly TV show folk defend their queer brethren and call for a boycott of the magazine publishing the retro homophobic tripe. That’s all the lead up to this week’s episode, in which out gay actor Neil Patrick Harris cameos as a former glee club star come back to haunt the high school as a budget-slashing school board member. So far as I could see, most of the buzz (okay, I didn’t look much past Twitter and a few hasty Google searches) seems to have been about how convincing Harris was as a straight guy. Even humorously so, since he and fellow out queer actor Jane Lynch have a scene in which sparks fly and intimations are made of immanent intimacy.
Okay, okay, fine. EXCEPT. In all the buzz over the Newsweek piece and Neil Patrick Harris’ repudiation of its thesis in last night’s episode, something seems to be overlooked. Rachel, the lead character has two dads (great!), neither of whom has ever appeared on the show (huh?). The mom of another lead, Finn has appeared several times, and a rich plot line has emerged about his father, who was killed in the first US-Iraq war. Another character, Kurt, our sumptuous and fabulous out gay character, has a reasonably nuanced and often deeply compelling relationship with his father, who has also appeared several times (his mother is deceased). We’ve seen the two (condemning) parents of another secondary character, Quinn. That makes a total of five parents we’ve seen (if we count the photographs of Finn’s dad and his urn, both of which have appeared on screen).
Which parental round-up brings us to a question that should be obvious: Where. The f***. Are Rachel’s. Dads?
I know the staccato period thing makes that hard to read, so I’ll try again in another way: WHERE THE F*** ARE RACHEL’S DADS?
Rhetorical question. Actual answer: Still offscreen. Rachel, when depicted at home, floats around in a parent-less world, or rather, in her bedroom, which conveniently has a bathroom adjoining it so we don’t have to run a camera down a hall and see, oh, A FATHER. Admittedly, the show focuses on the kids, so the parents appear only when they drive the kids’ storylines forward. And a teenaged gal who spends a lot of time holed up in her bedroom (singing into her brush in front of the mirror) is not implausible. But hello. The reason Rachel is a Broadway-bound triple-threat phenom has GOT to have one eeensy, teensy bit to do with who the hell her parents are. Yes? Yes? Big-ass, nelly-ass, Garland/Streisand/Gaga-loving queens, yes? At least ONE of them? I mean, her jazz hands prowess is not a coincidence, right? But so far, we’ve had practically ZILCH development on this angle. The writers better the hell have something great in the works, is all I can say. Though the faces in the one quickie flash we saw of them (interracial couple? I can’t barely even remember, the flash on their framed photo was so quick and so early on and never again to be re-flashed) did not reveal any actor known to me or my culture-vulture actor-attuned partner as a character or supporting actor. I hope to simply be underinformed here.
Okay, lodge that question in your heads (if you haven’t watched the show), and then reflect on the fact that the first time we see any adult related to Rachel, the first time we latch on to a face connected to her in any sort of parental way is — “No!” you say! “Don’t say it!” you say! “No they did not!” you say! But sadly, I have to say, “Yes, they did!” — Rachel’s birth mother! Yes! Referred to simply as her “mother”! And she appears because — “No!” you say! “Yes! I say — she appears because Rachel’s dads “never said anything about her” and Rachel is dying to know who she is. Yes! Apparently, gay parents can raise a kid for 16, 17 years and never speak to her about her biological origins! Even though we’re the only parents who actually HAVE any real interesting things to SAY to our kids about their biological origins! Which our kids might be interested in, and ask us about! (With everyone else, it’s all, “Eeeeeew, gross, Mom/Dad!” and then the fingers are plugged in the ears and loud, alphabet song singing commences.) Amazing, right! Who knew?
Aside #1: And no, I’m not minimizing her curiosity about meeting her birth mother. I’m maximizing the absence of her fathers and her relationship to them before this plotline emerged.
Aside #2: By stroke of blazing coincidence, Jeff DeGroot at COLAGE, the national organization for people with LGBT/Queer parents and their families, just completed a year-long project in which he surveyed and interviewed COLAGErs and produced a guide designed to “to answer the questions and address the concerns of current and future generations of donor-conceived children.” It’ll be released this Saturday, May 22 — California’s first annual Harvey Milk Day. More info here. Now back to rant again.
Rachel is on a quest to find out about her birth mother (I have to say it that way, if they won’t on the show), and — “No!” (you) “Yes!” (me) — she’s played by a huge actor! Who’s already got an established, intrigue-filled role on the show as the director of the arch-rival school’s glee club! And wait! Yes! She originated Elphaba in Wicked on Broadway and in London! None other than Idina Menzel! But wait! It gets worse! She’s heart-sick about having “given away” Rachel, and the musical number they do (not in the “real life” part of the plotline, but in the imaginary duet-world of musicals) is… wait for it… Fantine’s “I Dreamed a Dream,” from Les Miserables! Yes! The two of them, two of the most kick-arse Broadway beltin’ performers, singing arguably the best-known and most emotive song from one of the most popular musicals in Broadway’s history (for the Les Mis innocents: it’s the third longest-running show of all time; it’s still running in London; it was nominated for 12 Tonys, won 8, etc. etc.). Except that “she” is swapped for the “he” in this verse, as Rachel sings it:
And still I dream she’d come to me
That we would live the years together
But there are dreams that cannot be
And there are storms we cannot weather.
Rachel goes on:
I had a dream my life would be
So different from the hell I’m living
So different now from what it seemed
Now life has killed the dream I dreamed.
That “hell” she’s living would be, wait. Yes! The hell of living with two loving parents who are both men. I know, I know. It’s drama. It’s fake musical number land. But what the f***? How can the writers of a show renowned for trying to humanize not just gay people, but gay youth and the kids of gay parents, have left an absence so gaping, a hole in their script so big you could drive a whole 19th c. French battallion through it? It’s as jaw-dropping as an out gay journalist arguing that out gay actors are, ipso facto, implausible as straight characters.
Okay, I’ve gone on and on. About a damn TV show about a bunch of high school kids singing musical numbers on stage and in imaginary musical number land. No, I do not look to mass culture/ for-profit media for the big civil rights barricade-storming. But for all its genre-bound limitations and its having swung and missed on a good handful of other matters, I, like lots of other folks, had begun to expect more of the writers on this show. This “queerest” of network TV shows. Adored by millions of people, chief among them (I’ve got to believe) impressionable high school students, who feel, usually rightly, that the drama which drives their lives is often truthfully, often delightfully portrayed by an extremely talented ensemble. Which whole ensemble is invited to come and perform at the White House for its Easter Sunday Egg Roll, fer chrissakes. These are the young people who will soon be voting in or out our civil rights over the next critical, sure-to-be-action-packed decade. I care what they think and think they know about me and my family.
When we were watching the Rachel story line in the episode, all’s the beloved and I could do was mutter shocked expletive deletives to each other. Which increased to a crescendo when we saw the writers paired birth mother and her crypto-orphaned daughter in the heart-tugging Les Mis duet. In a fit of misguided pique, the beloved said she would boycott Glee. But I know that wouldn’t last a week. It’s a great show. I had thought. Now I think, shit. Is it really that hard to do? To take on complex issues with heart and mind together, neither one compromised, and the both not compromised by the chronic, criminal underestimation of what actual people in the viewing audience are capable of taking in? Don’t answer that. On second thought, please do.
I know same-sex and/or trans parents must have appeared in more richly nuanced portraits on TV already elsewhere. Right? And I’ve just gotten lax on my TV viewing habits since getting all tied up with this parenting gig. Right?
I know there’s a lot more to say here, and I’ve blown through over ten times 140 words to get this far (much less 140 characters). I’m amazed if you’ve gotten this far with me. But a rant, by definition, is not rigorously edited.
By the same token, I probably could have done it all in a Tweet, with characters to burn:
Et tu, Glee?
Or on a slightly less melancholy note,
Elphaba ate Rachel’s gay dads, and I’m not very happy about it.
18 thoughts on “Et tu, Glee?”
I watched the episode last night, and wondered 1. where Rachel’s dads were and 2. where the heck this storyline came from. Honestly, I was too caught up in how badly played the whole thing was to contemplate the larger issues of how they were presenting it.
I’m hoping that we will see Rachel’s dads in the coming episodes as this plays out, and maybe even get a good dialogue on what makes someone a parent. Personally, I felt like Idina Menzel’s character came off as incredibly selfish and manipulative in this plot, and I wonder how much play that’s going to get in the coming episodes. I’m not quite ready to write off Glee until I see how they play this one out.
I’m also wondering if the lack of parents for Rachel has to do with the network’s discomfort, instead of the writers. In the first episode, her fathers were introduced almost as some sort of joke- haha, interracial couple yet they don’t know which one is the father. I could definitely see execs signing off on that, only to later shoot down the idea of making them characters because, “oh god, people might be uncomfortable with the idea of a same-sex couple!” I would hope Fox expects more of their audience, but I’m not sure they do.
This bugged the EFF out of me last night. My opinion of Glee has steadly declined since the first episode, since I realized they wouldn’t fully embrace camp, but also wouldn’t fully embrace reality, and therefore somehow suspend themselves in a way that never entirely allowed ME to suspend my disbelief. Quickly it became about the songs, but even that – ugh, the fact they’re re-recorded and played over the scene, blergh. But Kurt was a vision and I’d watch Jane Lynch read the back of tubes of toothpaste, so I stuck it out. My wonderful partner (sorry, wife – thanks, DC!) has retained a more serious love for much longer than I have.
But last night was just so awful, for EXACTLY the reasons you mention, and I was so overjoyed to see your post this morning. First of all, Why, on a show dedicated to a SHOW CHOIR, to GLEE CLUB, do we not have any successful, out gay adults on the show? I’m not talking about the actors that portray them, though that’s another sticking point for me, but not ONE out gay adult to support Kurt’s rough coming out process, not one out gay adult that’s also NOT also a sexual predator like that one teacher? Not even that mysterious piano player who never gets a single line in the show, couldn’t he queer it up for five minutes or so? Not a single one. Rachel’s parents – successfully raising a beautiful, smart, self-posessed, talented daughter – we only see in a row of photobooth pictures, my memory of which is as foggy as yours except it being quite clear they were likely interracial, and also that they seemed PERFECT for the role of parents to an unabashedly stuck-up but oh-my-god-talented, musical-obsessed, pretty princess daughter like Rachel. Yet we don’t SEE THEM AT ALL. And yet her MOM is apparently where she gets her talent from, all of her looks, her love of music? Her two gay dads didn’t have anything to do with it? Just keeping her in the “hell” of a life, as she sings? Give me a freaking break.
And UGH everything about last night. Her mom didn’t want to give her up! The BIG SCARY QUEERS didn’t let her see her daughter once! She couldn’t contact her until she was eighteen! She was just a womb to them! God, aren’t gay men the most anti-feminist women-haters you’ve ever met? Why WOULD they let Idina Menzel meet her daughter, even look at her for more than a minute in the delivery room? What if she got her HETERO genes all over her daughter? Ick! So now we’ve got a subtext of queer parents stealing babies from poor, defenseless straight mothers! Adoption is the WORST, isn’t it? Man!
One of the only things I can think of about why they don’t want to showcase Rachel’s dads because they were unsure how to do it without bringing a bunch of prancing nellies onto the stage and get the backlash for that (I mean, seriously, a girl as driven, focused, and crazy as Rachel surely had not one, but likely two stage dads of Gypsy’s Rose caliber following her around). As in, they couldn’t think of a way to portray them without trotting out some stale stereotypes that they just decided to sidestep it all together? (But oh, couldn’t one or both of those gay dads maybe give Kurt some advice? That maybe he too, someday, could put all their energies into raising a daughter who would grow up to deny them in search of the mother they denied her her whole life?) That’s a lame excuse as any, but it’s all I can think of – them being scared to have such a stereotype on the screen. So! Why not, instead, do the same ret-conning as you’ve done since the begnning of the show? Why not give Rachel a pair of hairy, big-gutted, beer-drinking BEARS as parents? Gasp! I’m sure a bulk of middle America has no idea that gay men of that type even exist! Could men as hard-living as Kurt’s father be gay? Guess what, America – they can! Or, if you don’t think America is quite ready for the bear scene, how about make them just not into the musical theater scene – maybe they’re big antiquers, or real-estate flippers, or stock market junkies. Maybe they had a bad music theater experience (hey, like the idea you went with for NPH’s character!) and it’s rough for them to see their daughter pursuing the same path! Or… I don’t know. make them REAL people somehow! Make it plausible that she could have two loving, caring, adoring, supportive fathers, but still feel like something was missing in her life – hey, EVERYONE goes through that when they’re *cough* 15 (sure, sure, she looks 15, right? I mean, Setoodeh says Jesse St. James can’t look straight to save his life, but Lea Michele passes so easily as 15 years old). Or bring Lea Michele and Idina Menzel together and have them connect as she WOULD with a Mother figure, but then show us, hey, her fathers did a great job raising her, too! And… she loves them! Right? I mean, she does, right?
Instead, they’ve painted a picture of a girl who has no strong parental figures in her life. Who apparently are both clueless and cruel to the life of a teenage girl (because surely, as gay men, they don’t understand what adolescence can be like for the feminine-minded. Of course not.) One of the main characters of the show, if not THE main character, when yes, we’ve seen Quinn’s parents for crying out loud. They’ve given us Kurt – and given the strongest episodes of the series to Kurt (which he handles beautifully) – and the reconciliation of a gay son with his straight father. But gay parents, oh no. Similar to Mitchell and Cameron on Modern Family – a stable, loving couple and oh look, they’re gay dads who adopted (not sure how, as as far as I know all Asian countries deny adoptions to homosexuals) a baby from Vietnam – who we’ve seen be very tender with one another, but are as chaste on screen as best friends who happen to live together. Which brings me back to gay actors playing straight roles, like Jane Lynch, like Neil Patrick Harris. No, it ISN’T that they can’t do it, give me a break. It’s that they aren’t playing gays, as well. Why did NPH need to be straight last night? To play up the “Saved from a gay lifestyle” satire of “Saved from a life of musical theater”? And though Sue Sylvester is often portrayed more as asexual than straight, they’ve established that she IS straight. Why? why give her a sexuality at all, or, more than that, why not make her a lesbian? They’re working to portray her yes, as crazy, yes, racist, a straight-shooter, a black-mailer, but they’ve also given us tenderness through her relationship with her sister. They’ve also portrayed her as smart, capable, and good at her job. Why couldn’t she be into chicks? For that matter, where are the freaking lesbians on television AT ALL? Playing straight roles. We all KNOW NPH can play straight, why not let him have a boyfriend instead of a wife? America LOVES NPH right now. Maybe put him in a role that says, hey, look, gay people can be totes normal! Check it out! And next week we’ll have Lady Gaga, a gay icon. Who will be around to appreciate it? Kurt, maybe. I bet Rachel’s
Last night was cheap, unnecessary, and one-sided. Where were Rachel’s dads when she was belting her heart out on “dream stage” with the mother whom they denied access to her entire life? Who the hell taught her to appreciate Streisand? Off plotting more ways to protect their daughter from her straight mother? Or cooking dinner, walking the dog, talking about their day, wondering out loud to one another why their daughter seems a little more distant than usual, and hoping they can find a way to get her to open up, because, I don’t know, they love her and parenting a teenager is hard no matter who’s doing it, and they’d wish she’d come talk to them about what’s bothering her? Sorry, Glee. You are, like so many other shows, giving us the token gay characters when you think it’s appropriate to trot them out, which is sadder and more pitiful when you look at what your show is actually about. You’re not breaking any ground. You’re just making me beat my head against a wall.
I am way too versed in pop culture. The amount of trivia and pop culture knowlege I have could probably be classified as a disorder. So, I have thoughts/feelings/opinions on this and I can’t believe I am going to do this but – I am going to disagree with you. I hope your commenters don’t eat me alive! My response will not be as eloquent or as detailed because I’m doing this off the top of my head but I’ll do my best.
We expect a lot of our fellow queers. I will argue that sometimes we expect too much. So, given that Ryan Murphy is gay and Glee is so very gay, we have huge expectations of him and the show. Look what he has already given us…an openly gay character, the lovely flirtation between Brittany and Santana, the brilliant casting of Jane Lynch and tons and tons of inside jokes. He has also been an outspoken advocate for our community. I say all of this not because I believe that we should all shut up and be happy with what we have. I don’t believe we should ever settle. However, I do believe that we should cut the man and the show some slack. This show cannot be everything to everyone. It cannot give us everything we want. No show can do that. Yes, we are desperate for representation but Ryan Murphy and Glee cannot bear the burden of our desires exclusively.
No, we haven’t seen Rachel’s dads and I had hoped that we would (still hope that we will) but what have we seen? Rachel is proud of her family. She is open about her family. She is clearly loved and adored by her dads (The Rachel Berry shrine in the basement as evidence). Rachel’s clearly a great kid with a great head on her shoulders (for the most part). She is secure in who she is which is a testament to her family. I have never gotten the feeling that she has any issue with her dads or the make up of her family. She wants to meet her birth mom. This is her story…this is not necessarily the story of every child of queer parents but this is her story and it is a legitimate one.
Idina Menzel lobbied to be cast in a role on Glee. She thought she looked like Rachel and pitched the idea of playing Rachel’s mother to Ryan who I imagine would be hardpressed to say, “Nah, I’d rather not have this amazing performer come on the show.” Yes, they could have found another role for her. Yes, they could have skirted the entire quest for the mom storyline altogether. They didn’t and I think that’s ok. As for the duet, I thought it was absolutely gorgeous. The whole “hell” part I took with a grain of salt because we haven’t seen Rachel in any hell at all. This is musical theater – emotions are big and often exaggerated. This is one of those times when I choose not to overanalyze the lyrics in regard to the action. A rare time, I might add.
I’m actually going to go further out on this proverbial limb and say that I appreciated Idina’s nuanced performance regarding her angst about never having been in Rachel’s life. It hasn’t ruined her life but who are we to say that she wouldn’t have been curious? Who are we to say that she didn’t have regrets? This is a ficitional story…not “our” stories necessarily but fiction. The fact is that not every queer family out there has the queer theory and the language to think about family the way we do. The fact is that not every queer family handles these issues well. Not every family does actually talk to their kids about how they came into their lives. We can get into this place where we think that all queers are comfortable and open talking to their kids about these issues but it’s not true. Some of us do it well. Some of us don’t. That’s the messy reality of all of this.
There are a million misconceptions about our families out there. We are protective of our families, protective of how we are seen by others. There are real reasons for this. Also, I can’t help but wonder if we are a bit controlling. We want to be perceived in a certain way as parents. We want our children to be perceived as just fine with all of this thank you very much. This is all beyond our control yet, sometimes, we get caught up in this idea of projecting a certain image. Rachel’s storyline is not the image that we want to project but it will ring true for some families and kids.
I’ve rambled and I’m not even sure that I’ve made my case well. But, I’ll leave it at this for now.
Will you still share your king-sized bed with me in NY? 🙂
My wife Sweetiebabyhoneylicious started a rant about this herself. I invited her to post as a guest on my blog, which is also not a destination site for pop-culture. I just wanted to see this rant in print somewhere. She demurred–thank you for running with it! You did an awesome job summing things up.
I do appreciate the portrayal of Kurt’s dad, though. As a lesbian of blue-collar origin, I’m glad to get the word out that working-class stiffs can be broad-minded, tolerant, compassionate and even progressive. Not every plumber is Joe the Plumber, so to speak.
I feel your angst, LD, but I think I lean slightly towards Vikki’s POV as well. Although we haven’t seen Rachel’s dads in the flesh (there have been pictures), I think part of the win was that it was simply a fact of her life. She has parents. They happen to be two dads. No big shock reveal, no big ‘dealing with the issue’, just a matter of fact announcement that’s just part of the bigger picture.
And I also agree with Vikki that the show just can’t be all things to all people. There are people angry at how they’re getting it wrong about people with disabilities, people of colour, people of size, gays, lesbians, Jewish people, gender issues, adoption issues, teen pregnancy issues… the weight that show has taken on simply by having such a diverse ensemble is massive. The weight of their sudden massive fame, and how to parlay that into a second season is also massive, and they’ve mis-stepped in the second half of the season. The stories have become a bit choppy, trying to provide a bit of exposition for all of the characters while fitting in all the artists who offered their music, all the guests who wanted to star and direct… I feel for Ryan Murphy. The juggling act he’s trying to do is insane.
So I feel you. The places where our own skins are thin rub up against the only media portrayal of us, and we hurt. I remember when The Color Purple came out in the 80s, and the months-long vilification of Danny Glover’s character, and the near-invisibility of the lesbian storyline, and and and. Now it would matter somewhat less, I suspect, as there are a whole range of stories about people of colour out there that represent a massive nuanced diversity. That movie had a particular story to tell and it tried to tell it with some integrity. It wasn’t perfect, but at least it existed. I feel the same about Glee, frankly.
All I can say is, from that experience of mine, patience. It’s an incomplete picture that exists of us in the mainstream media as yet. But Rachel is a beautiful, talented, loveable (for all her quirks) larger-than-life young woman, and at no point do we think that that’s in spite of her dads. Little references to them from her throughout the show reinforce for me that it’s because of them. Nowhere have I seen the slightest suggestion that any mistakes they’ve made are because they don’t care, or aren’t capable parents.
I will hope for better, surer, less attention-pandering story choices from Glee next year. But come on. It’s the show’s FIRST SEASON. They deserve some time to find their rhythm, and I don’t think it’s fair to say they aren’t trying. REALLY. HARD. for visibility, respect and inclusion for all the characters on the show. If they’re given the time, I think they’re going to get there.
O I just love you people. I blather on and on, worrying that people would slowly, one by one, get up and leave the theater. And instead, one by one, y’all stand up and wax just as lengthy and thoughtful. I just love you people.
Being a Libra, my tendency is to agree with everyone. Which I essentially do. Vikki, Shereen, I definitely believe that no single work of art (slash body of work) will be or even should be able to meet the emotional and political needs/demands of the people whom that work of art (slash body of work) ostensibly “represents.” The root problem of “representation” in the first place. Particularly in the wooly, early years of our presence in pop culture — and yes, I have the long view here. Early years to me means basically first decade or two on a noticable scale, depicted more and more frequently and with more and more nuance, etc.
You put it really nicely, Shereen: “The places where our own skins are thin rub up against the only media portrayal of us, and we hurt.” That’s so the thing. Jesus H. (full name, as called out by my mother, in vain: Jesus H. Christ on a raft!), there are so very very few appearances of any of us (here, I’m talking queer people, and we’re showing up in fairly direct relationship to our social power, which means white first, of color on down thereafter; men usually more than women, unless the women can feed into some sort of hetero male gal-on-gal fantasy). So of course it’s a feeding frenzy. We’re all so hungry to see anything like us in the media that so envelops us/ influences the hearts and minds of people in the cultures around us. The feeding frenzy has got to be like a frothy, foamy school of piranhas.
On the Rachel and her dads front: yes. The show has (one hopes) a reasonably long narrative arc, and seeds can be sown for anything. Good writers will be dropping those seeds, Johnny Appleseed-like, and exploiting their creativity and the possibilities as best they can. As my Pops likes to say, the future lies ahead.
And yet, I’m also with elle and TheTutuGirl. It freaking stung to never see her dads before we saw her heart-sick birth mom. Period. Heart-sick birth mom: good drama. Utterly absent parents, before we meet the birth mom: HUH? Given the current political climate around us gay family folk, that absence is VERY VERY NOISY. Even if it’s due to a well thought-out calculus, and something’s a-brewing. But if we don’t carp and complain — respectfully, thoughtfully — who’s gonna know that our skins are hurting? Or whatever? Obama has as much as said, hold my feet to the fire, people. Show me the social imperative behind your desires, the broad, visible ground-up wave, so that cowards in positions of power can know your voices will drown out the hue and cry of the homophobes. I personally believe leadership takes bravery and risk-taking, and sure, I wish he’d spend more “political capitol” on us. Way more. And I’m still proud of him, and would vote for him again.
It would be easy to stray into a critique of Pres. Obama’s disappointing shortcomings/ stabbings in the back with a pen (depends on how deep you feel the pain). His first term, vis-a-vis LGBT people’s civil rights struggles provides a distracting but useful example. But the point is — at least my point here is — we need to provide our leaders, our artists, each other, something precious: encouragement. Not in a wishy-washy way. In a deep way. Productive, proactive, unstinting en-couragement. Meaning the inspiration to act with courage, spirit, confidence, to face necessary challenges with bravery. All that.
“Do what you know is right!” I say (to brother Murphy or whomever). “Take a risk. Look at your industry’s history, review at Chapter 5 of Susan Faludi’s Backlash and remind yourself of the dialectic relationship between political and financial risk-taking, and then grow a pair of ovaries/juevos (as the case may be). We’re your people; we got your back. And yes, we’re pushing at it when the sting stings bad enough, and we can’t see/don’t trust where you’re going with it. We’re also patting you on that back at the same time, maybe even volunteering to rub it now and again.” (Volunteers to rub Jane Lynch’s back are legion amongst many of y’all, I feel fairly confident).
Last note (for now: swing shift of kidcare a-rushin’ on in!): the older I get, the more I feel like complexity and paradox are so important. So worth the effort to manage taking them in, sitting down with them. Media messages can be both damaging and liberating at the same time, not either/or; viewers take power and make what they can/must with what they have. It’s a rich dialog, even if the images/sounds blast farther and louder when backed with big capitol. I’m glad they’re out there, the Glee co-creators, writers, producers, and cast, doing what they’re doing in the public eye. They’re clearly hugely talented, and they’ve got their sights set high. And like a pesky family member at the holiday table, I’m going to both celebrate and challenge them, and tell them when my huge pride is marred with real disappointment. That’s the most powerful thing my mother ever said to me, in critique: “Honey, I’m disappointed in you.”
P.S. I will share a king-sized bed in a NYC hotel with you anytime, Vikki. Or, toward the end of the first week of August, to be precise. Tell Luisa to pack some oysters in yer duffel bag. 😉
P.S.S. Thank you for opening up space for disagreement and sketching it out. Where we gonna go without spirited, vigorous, confident dissent? Nowheres fast. Solo voices are beautiful, but it’s the choirs that tend to make me weep. Says the non-weeper.
I will read every word in these comments and comment because I LOVE me some pop culture brouhaha. BUT, I have to delouse my house first. I am NOT kidding. The youngest is infested and I am itching like crazy and I am about to douse the entire joint in gasoline, light a match and move to a brand new condo. The kid? Shoot…what will I do with the kid?? She can come after she’s been quarantined for two weeks.
It has only since our youngins have begun to enter the public sphere that I have begun to appreciate how disparaging “louse” is, as an insult. My condolences. I have seen de-lousing campaigns wrought upon my neice (whom we more or less live with, in co-housing) at least twice a year, sometimes more, since she entered school. The price of being popular, mebbe. Maybe you can tell Zecca that. Or write it to her, if you have her off in quarrantine somewheres. 🙁 sad face emoticon for you all.
omg, I love the tweet versions, especially the last one.
I just wondered, have we found out if Rachel’s ‘bio-mum’ was a surrogate or if she gave up rachel for adoption? (we’re a bit behind you in the uk) If it’s the latter then surely it’s a storyline of adopted kid looking for biological mother – regardless of if she has adopted dads or mums or mum and dad. if that’s the case then actually this is being treated no differently from any other adoption storyline i’ve seen where hetero parents are involved. The implication that Rachel’s bio-mum regrets giving up would support this. i think the song choice also would support that kind of storyline.
I think another issue would actually be whether all adopted children seem to have this desire to find their birth parents, (regardless of who adopted them) and if this always has to be the storyline given to adopted characters.
if however surrogacy was involved with rachel then i would tend to agree more with you.
Whatever the storyline – we still need to see more of Rachels dads!!
hope that makes sense, i’m tired so i don’t feel at my most eloquent!
‘Aloo, nic! And yes, alas, it was a surrogacy thing. She “signed a contract” and the money she earned for her surrogacy supported two more years of an attempt at Broadway. So she said in a quickie confession of the backstory to Rachel’s boyfriend whom she buttonholed to connect her to Rachel.
That’s the sticky wicket here: a desire to connect to birth parents is a totally valid one, and worth exploring. And, yes, there can be conflict, regrets, and all manner of rancor. I think it was Vikki who pointed out (echoing other lesbian parent writers out there, Dana Rudolph notably among them) that we’re in a tough position: like all underrepresented minorities, we naturally want only our clean laundry to be visible. Particularly since so many of the most pervasive myths and so much of the junk/pseudo science about us runs heavily along themes of our incompetencies as parents (at the best) or our predatoriness (at the worst). That the dirty laundry part makes for good drama, and that the currently cultivated/market-tested tastes around family dramas run to the heterosexual, all puts us on a fairly inevitable collision course.
I suppose a more-to-the-point Tweet would be something along the lines of “Elphaba upstaged Rachel’s gay dads, and I wanna at least SEE them dance by in a kick line ONCE before she gets the big solo.” Clunkier but at least still under 140 characters.
I also found myself fuming while watching Glee; however, the jury’s still out for me on this show. I’m not willing to give up on what is pretty much the best we’ve got at the moment. Now, Ilene Chaiken and The Real L Word Los Angeles are another story….
Here’s the thing about Glee. It’s about a bunch of fifteen/sixteen year-olds. Now, I happened upon this site following various links. I’m not a parent yet and don’t generally read parenting blogs. I hope to one day be a parent of both biological and adopted children. I’ll be facing challenges as both a lesbian and an expatriate. I get that the initial reaction to the latest episode of Glee is feeling betrayed, However, I’m also twenty-five. High school doesn’t seem that far away to me. One of the things I remember most is that rarely do parents play a big role in a teenager’s day-to-day life.
An adolescent’s parents ARE in supportive (not starring) roles in most cases. It’s only when a conflict (parent’s started dating, son’s just coming out, daughter is pregnant) that they move into the spotlight, so to speak. In my case, my single mother was pretty much in the background until being diagnosed with breast cancer my senior year (she’s fine, by the way, just went through it a second time, but pulled through again). We’ve seen Finn’s mother because he had issues involving her (he’s a teenage father, among other things). We’ve seen Quinn’s parents because she’s pregnant. We’ve seen Kurt’s father as Kurt goes through the coming out process (a storyline which has been handled excellently, especially considering that the role was written into the show for Colfer–he auditioned for the role of Artie–and wasn’t foreseen). We briefly saw Puck’s mom with the whole “why can’t you date a Jewish girl?” subplot.
All of Rachel’s issues (up until now) haven’t really involved her parents. So, we haven’t seen them. We haven’t met the families of Tina, Artie, Mercedes, Brittany, Santana or many of the others either. Yes, it stung that we saw Rachel’s biological mother before the parents who raised her, but there are a couple potential explanations for that.
One, yes, it could be that the network balked at the idea, in which case, bringing in Idina Menzel first was an excellent idea. It gives them a reason to bring up Rachel’s parentage. And what better reason than a Broadway star, one who has even non-theatre-following teenage girls across the globe devoting youtube clips and fanpages to her, appearing on the show? I can pretty much guarantee that her appearance on the show increased viewership and ratings. Her fan-base is bordering on insane. Money talks, and using her in the storyline might have helped soften the network if the gay dads part was an issue.
Another possibility is that they just haven’t found who they want to play her parents yet. The show’s pretty particular about casting.For example–SPOILER ALERT: SKIP THIS PARAGRAPH IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW!–
Emma is about to get a new love interest, but he won’t be introduced this season because they’re looking for a well-known actor and haven’t decided who it will be yet.
We need to bear in mind the reason there was a mid-season hiatus: the rest of the season hadn’t been completed yet–they waited until the show had been picked up for a full season before shooting. The producers didn’t even know whether they would get to a Rachel’s dads storyline. Once they did figure that out, they had half a season to finish shooting and perhaps casting took a backseat. Meanwhile, a female, known Tony-winning star to whom Lea Michele bears a remarkable resemblance, expressed an interest in appearing on on a show during its freshman run. That’s pretty rare. What would you do if you were a producer? I’d jump at the chance. And really, it would be creepy to have two people who look so much alike appear side by side if there was no relation between them. (I realize their isn’t actually, but television frequently has to be more realistic than reality to avoid criticism.)
The season’s almost over. Vocal Adrenaline is competing against New Directions at Regionals. They wanted Menzel to play their coach. They felt they had to work her relationship to Rachel into the storyline, but didn’t feel they had time to work an introduction to Rachel’s dads into the same episode. Maybe this is a good thing. I think the basement Rachel shrine is a clue that we’re about to meet her family. They may actually get MORE airtime because it’s done after we meet the biological mother. I’m still holding out hope that this is going to turn out positively.
In any case, I didn’t really see Shelby as being a character we’re supposed to feel overly sympathetic toward. What she’s doing is manipulative and illegal. The back-story and duet (my guess is they wrote the episode around that song) are pretty much the only things that keep her from being totally unlikeable. Also, Menzel’s breakout role was the lesbian, Maureen, from RENT. She has a HUGE LGBT fan-base. I doubt she would intentionally do anything to jeopardize that.
So, I say wait until at least the season finale before getting too offended. Let’s see how they handle it. The next two episodes were switched–the Lady Gaga episode was supposed to be the 21st, not the 20th–so don’t be too disappointed if there’s no resolution on Tuesday. There’s supposed to be a really emotional scene between Kurt and Burt, so I imagine that will be the focus. (I love those characters’ story arc. It’s being handled beautifully.) Honestly, the big Shelby-is-Rachel’s-bio-mom reveal (after initially being offended) only serves to spark my curiosity. How on earth are they going to work a Rachel/Shelby acoustic ‘Pokerface’ duet into that storyline?! 🙂
Merci beaucoup, SMiaVS, for the thoughtful and hugely informative exposition (and bienvenue). It’s been a few short decades (cough, cough) since I’ve been in high school, and I was pretty close to my parents during the time (it helped that one of them — thanks, Mom — brought a huge pink box of donuts to the 6:30am girls’ swim practice throughout the season). Plus I’m a parent now. So I have a good three strikes of subjectivity against me here, enough to recuse myself at least from the conceit of objectivity.
My partner is a high school musical theater company artistic director, so she spends most of her workweek with Glee-esque young people, many of whom are as close to their parents as they are prone to drama (no disrespect! if they weren’t, they’d be doing chess with their spare time!). This community of people may be anomalous, so I’m not even going to extrapolate her experiences.
But I am right there with you, that this show follows adult storylines (other than Will Schuster’s) only rarely, and mostly to the extent that they provide a parallel against which to set one of the youth plotlines (i.e. the Will Schuster/Finn parallels). Parents have cropped up, as you point out very well, clearly when something about them has become a thorn in the glee club member’s side. I’m with you, too, that the shrine in the basement reference certainly (a) sets up her parents as nakedly adoring, and (b) piques our curiosity about them.
I’d read that Menzel had asked to be on the show, too, and had brought up her resemblance to Lea Michelle as one of the plusses of casting her (if her talent as a performer weren’t enough). It’s great to know this additional stuff about her — the Rent break, e.g., though don’t get us all started on Rent and Sarah Shulman’s being rooked! ooo! — talk about a distracting sub-plot! which, as a former Lesbian Avenger and one-time chauffer to Schulman (okay, she was in town reading and I just drove her from the airport to her gig, whatever) — I feel compelled to mention it whenever I hear reference to Rent).
Thanks again, SMiaVS. Of course I’m curious about which of the “various links” you followed to get here (can’t be “turkey baster” b/c I’m no longer on the front page of that one). Hope they were friends rather than foes. Hope you come back, too.
I thought I would add my two cents worth about the sort of trickster ambivalence of the storyline, but also reflect on the doing of queer family in relation to narratives like this, and that actually our lovely 17 year old drama queen daughter and I had already delighted in Idina appearing on the show before the fateful episode (which hasn’t shown here yet).
We haven’t seen the episode (!!) but I think part of the complexity here is that you can’t not read the event intertextually, so that the Idina-as-bio-mom is juxtaposed (in my mind as least) against her roles in Rent and Wicked – there is still ‘something queer’ about Idina. For me this is complicated against the curiously familiar and abject terrain of so-called “bad mothers” – including the imagined threat of women who might reproduce commercially and not mother – so I guess I’m wondering if maybe it is worth, at least partially, claiming Idina-as-bio-mom as a bit queer –a site of transgression against normative femininity? Afterall, another danger is that the narrative casts her as the ‘tragic heroine’ – a woman who has lost her opportunity to mother (a pact with the devil?)- in a similar way that queer characters (especially gay men and butch women) have been cast as tragic heroes who have foregone the opportunity to be loved.
Another juxtaposition – my favourite version on the Les Mis ‘I dreamed a Dream’ is a version by Aretha Franklin which effectively re-imagines it in the context of Martin Luther King –makes me rethink dreaming in the context of oppressions and silences not spoken and the marginalised people carrying them —
so I’m thinking why is it that a dream of family/ intimacy has to be played out as between a biological mother/ biological daughter – but simultaneously stand in for – the tangible absence of the gay fathers as shadow characters who are unable to be loved (getting all Judith Butler, thinking about the foreclosed loss of the gay love object in ‘the psychic life of power’).
The tricky guilty pleasure aspect of this for me is that my lovely daughter and I were completely elated about Idina appearing on Glee. As a queer mama with a very um, glossy, shiny, girlie teenager it gave us a cute moment of shared culture. She loves Glee, we both loved Rent and we planned to watch it together. I guess for me it’s camp and for her it’s hyper feminine. Pretty sure we’ll still enjoy it as a queer family moment.
LD – Did you watch the new episode yet? I’m dying to hear how you reacted to recent developments in the Rachel/Dads/Shelby plot-line.
I did, just last night. I want to try to write something about it when/if I get a moment of childcare today (an otherwise all-day kid-care day). Mixed bag/ mixed blessing. Without coughing up all the thoughts I hope to write up (in a more thought-out fashion) soon, after a point I spent the remainder of the episode with my arms crossed across my chest and a scowl on my face. The Mrs, who had a similar reaction to me but has an expansive mind, reminded me that it’s pop culture after all, and is shallow. We want it to be deep, and of course we want it to meet all our expectations, and since we have basically nothing out there right now (representing LGBT parents regularly on a prime time series), those expectations/hopes are sky high.
At the same time, of course, we got a story line taking on anti-gay, anti-sissy (!) harassment in the school, and showed not just friends but a tough-guy parent heroically standing up for Kurt, as well as Kurt issuing eloquent soliloquies of proud, defiant self-declaration. There’s no question that’s the story line affecting more kids in the viewing audience. There are kids of LGBT parents out there — and more every day — but I’m going to guess that there are more queer kids watching Glee, and getting that story line right (if they were going to nail one, and glancingly miss the other) seems critical.
I do hope to write about it soon. Soon’s I have enough time to detail how what they’ve been managing with this prime time TV show, at least on this story line, contrasts powerfully with what Lisa Cholodenko has managed with her film The Kids Are Alright, a film coming out this summer and which I was able to see in a preview this week.
As a regular Glee watcher (fan they call it but I dont consider myself a fan..just like it) the plotline is the least of their concerns… the writers do a great job, in my opinion, on Kurt coming out story where his father is understading, already knows and supportive. Now that you mentioned it is kinda strange that we have never meet (to this day…cause once again Im late to party xD) Rachel’s parents… I do really hope when we have the privileged they wont be too stereotypical or do subplotline were they are a trouble couple or smth.
Rachel is one of the main characters so it would make sense that we get to see her parents… in a recent Glee episode we get to see her basement where (there’s a stage for the gays to perform) the Glee kids use it to get drunk and party because when gay parents are away all hell breaks lose… I’ll betcha they wouldn’t have that party with underage kids drinking in Finn house for example Â¬_Â¬
Lately I haven’t been expecting much from Glee other than good musical numbers because they do deliver that…. story wise is crappy… Polly you also missed one of the reason is the queerest tv show on right now and that is the very well known and pretty obvious lesbian relationship of two main characters Lea Michelle (Rachel) and Dianna Agron(Quinn, cheerleader) both femmes, both beautiful that defeat the butch stereotype… google it: agron and michelle or achele for more proof (that one did it for me) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y259VbVZp1o
It is also known that the producers of the show have asked them to sit separated in interviews and try to be secret about it because they dont wanna attract more gay people to the show… let me rephrase that they dont wanna make it a gay show O_O whaaat!! dude they sing, dance, they are a Glee club that sings musicals every other week… how much more gay can you get…
I had my own little rant too Polly…anyway you do in your family what you can. Great day to your little loving trench 🙂